Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 9/19/19 – 9/25/19

Here are the few movies we’re most excited about that are screening in New Orleans this week, including a couple of our favorite picks from The Overlook Film Festival.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

HustlersA surprise critical-hit thriller about a crew of strippers who embezzle money from the Wall Street bozos who frequent their club. Features performances from pop music icons Lizzo, Cardi B, Keke Palmer, and Jennifer Lopez. Playing wide.

Downton AbbeyThe world’s best-dressed soap opera is back for a theatrical victory lap! Bigger, louder, and probably just as well-behaved as ever. Playing wide.

After the Thin Man (1936) – The first of five(!!!!!) sequels to the classic pre-Code studio comedy The Thin Man, wherein a wealthy alcoholic couple down martinis & trade witty sex jokes at a rapidfire pace in-between solving crimes as private detectives. Screening at the Prytania as part of their Classic Movies series on Sunday 9/22 and Wednesday 9/25.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) – Part French New Wave, part Benny Hill, and part gore-soaked horror, Funeral Parade of Roses is a rebellious amalgamation of wildly varied styles & tones all synthesized into an aesthetically cohesive, undeniably punk energy. Shot in a stark black & white that simultaneously recalls both Goddard & Multiple Maniacs, the film approximates a portrait of queer youth culture in late-60s Japan. Screening free to the public (with donations encouraged) Thursday 9/19 at the LGBT Community Center of New Orleans as part of their ongoing Queer Root series.

One Cut of the Dead A deceptively complex crowd-pleaser that starts as a low-key experiment in staging a single-take zombie movie, but eventually evolves into a heartfelt love letter to low-budget filmmaking of all types (and all the frustrations, limitations, and unlikely scrappy successes therein). One of the best films I’ve seen all year. Screening at Zeitgeist in Arabi (ahead of its eventual streaming release on the horror platform Shudder).

Tigers Are Not Afraid A dark fairy tale ghost story about Mexican drug cartels that’s admirably committed to its own sense of brutality, threatening to destroy young children by bullet or by ghost without blinking an eye. Anyone especially in love with similar past works like The Devil’s Backbone or The City of Lost Children should find a lot worthwhile here, though there’s a specificity to the Mexican drug cartel context that saves the film from feeling strictly like an echo of former glories. Screening at Zeitgeist in Arabi (ahead of its eventual streaming release on the horror platform Shudder).

-Brandon Ledet

Don’t Stress. You’ve Already Seen the Superior Cut of Midsommar (2019)

Midsommar is my favorite 2019 release I’ve seen so far, with only a quarter of the year left to go. Its morbid humor, detailed costume & production design, and dread-inducing continuation of Wicker Man-style folk horror made for an immensely satisfying theatrical experience. Twice! Last month, A24 re-released Midsommar back into theaters for an unexpected victory lap in an extended “director’s cut,” which was an excellent excuse to revisit the film to see if I was still as high on its perverse charms as I was when it was first released. To my delight, it was even better the second time around, with plenty of winking references to the horrors to come in the film’s transcendent third act telegraphed hours earlier in plain sight (especially involving bear imagery & the Swedish cultists’ blatant honesty about the rituals they’d be performing at the violent height of the festival). However, I don’t think people need to stress too much about having missed the extended, three-hour cut of the film if it didn’t happen to play in a city nearby. You’ll be fine.

No sooner did the extended cut disappear from theaters than it was announced that its streaming rights would be exclusive to Apple TV later this year. That means physical media releases of the film will only include the original theatrical cut, which is the exact kind of thing that drives rabid Blu-ray collectors into apoplectic mania. I was already seeing some online pushback against the extended re-release of the film as an “A24 cash grab,” and those grumblings only gained intensity after the announcement of its precarious life on home video after the fact. I suppose the assumption is that there will eventually be a “Collector’s Edition” re-release of the Blu-ray with the extended cut included as an extra or that, worse yet, it will never reach physical media at all, as its exclusive streaming rights are a better commodity that way. Personally, I can’t be too mad at smaller companies like A24 for working every angle they can to turn a profit in an increasingly tight, over-crowded market dominated by big-budget, Disney-owned IPs. I also can’t be too mad because the extended cut of Midsommar is something of a fans-only novelty. The original release was far superior.

The experience of seeing the extended cut of Midsommar on the big screen was deeply rewarding as an already converted devotee, but not really in any way that could be recreated at home via physical media replay. The original cut of the film tells the exact same story as the extended one. The recovered, extraneous content of the extended cut packs in more Jokes, but narrative-wise only makes what’s already obvious about the characters onscreen more blatantly explicit. Christian is more of a jerk; Josh is more of a selfish academic; Mark is more of a dunce; Pelle is more of a liar; Dani is in more of a daze, etc. It felt like exactly what it was: hitting Play All on the Deleted Scenes menu of a DVD you already loved just as much without them. There’s nothing especially substantial about the extended cut of Midsommar that you haven’t already seen streamlined in the original; at most you missed a few extra laughs. Both cuts were also approved by Ari Aster himself, so it’s not like you could pass the newer one off as a “Director’s Cut.” They’re both director’s cuts. One is just unnecessarily longer.

Most of what I got out of seeing Midsommar on the big screen a second time would have been exactly the same as if it had been the same cut on both watches. As a fan, though, I’m still extremely grateful of A24 for re-releasing the film for a late-summer victory lap. Mostly, that’s because the crowd attracted to seeing an extended release of this already long, niche horror film were a lot savvier than the first batch. Whereas the first crowd I saw it with received the film in perplexed, frustrated silence, pretty much all the jokes landed in the exact right way the second time. No one really laughed at inappropriate moments where humor was not intended either, which feels like an even rarer treat. Plus, all the women in the room were audibly groaning in frustration anytime Christian opened his big dumb mouth throughout, which was incredibly heartwarming after months of bizarre “Christian wasn’t that bad” apologism in the months since the initial release. Maybe a few extra scenes of him being a colossal dipshit helped amplify that reaction, but for the most part the improved environment of the screening had to do more with the crowd the extended cut attracted, not the deleted scenes it recovered.

Watch Midsommar again! It plays even better the second time. Details like the summer camp vibe of the fictional excursion resembling a traditional slasher template and the ursine implications of a cultist clapping in Christian’s face to scare him will jump out at you on a revisit. Just don’t stress too much about “missing out” on the extended cut in this temporary purgatory where its availability is being limited so that A24 can better pay the bills. If you missed the extended cut in theaters you already missed what made the experience special: its ability to draw like-minded weirdos out of their hidey holes to create a better communal atmosphere for the film’s perverse sense of humor. You can totally recreate that experience at home with the original cut by just being selective about what friends you invite over to share it with you. If anything, you’re just saving everyone a half-hour of their time.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #91 of The Swampflix Podcast: The Bank Job (2008) & Who Is Jason Statham?

Welcome to Episode #91 of The Swampflix Podcast. For our ninety-first episode, James & Brandon attempt to answer the age-old question “Just who, exactly, is Jason Statham?” To solve this complex puzzle, they look back to the supposed action star’s early-aughts rise to fame[?] in films like The Transporter (2002), Crank (2006), and The Bank Job (2008). Enjoy!

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

-Brandon Ledet & James Cohn

Money, Sex, Love, Christmas, Blood, and Donuts

The Gen-X vampire slacker drama Blood & Donuts, our current Movie of the Month, carries a lot of low-key hangout energy for a movie about a bloodsucking immortal ghoul. The film’s central vampire, Boya, is reluctant about his role as an eternal seducer & killer, appearing to be genuinely pained by the danger he poses to the vulnerable humans around him. He attempts to limit his sanguine footprint by feeding off street rats and avoiding eye contact with potential romantic partners, until the urge overpowers him or until his vampirism proves useful in saving the day for his mortal friends. One of the ways this small-budget Canuxploitation horror signals this low-key, anti-violence hangout ethos is by setting its story in a 24-hour donut shop, where Boya can hang out in wholesome solidarity with other nocturnal weirdos without frequenting the orgiastic goth nightclubs more typical to vampire cinema. That donut shop is a quirky choice that maybe suggests a livelier horror comedy than Blood & Donuts cares to deliver, but it still helps distinguish the otherwise tempered film as a singular novelty (which can only be a boon in the crowded field of vampire media).

While vampire movies are a dime a dozen, donut shop movies are more of a niche rarity. There are certainly iconic donut shops to be found scattered around pop culture –Big Donut in Steven Universe, Miss Donuts in Boogie Nights, Stan Mikita’s Donuts in Wayne’s World, Krispy Kreme in Power Rangers, etc. However, those settings are isolated diversions rather than serving as a central location like the one in Blood & Donuts. The only other significant feature film I can think of with a plot that revolves so closely around a donut shop is Sean Baker’s 2015 Los Angeles Christmas-chaos piece Tangerine, which is anchored to a real-life LA donut shop called Donut Time. The opening credits of Tangerine scroll over a yellow enamel table at Donut Time, scratched with the names of bored vandals who have visited over the years. The movie serves as a kind of whirlwind feet-on-the-ground tour of a very niche corner of LA, but it’s anchored to Donut Time as a significant landmark to establish a sense of order amidst that chaos. It opens there with its two stars (Mya Taylor & Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) splitting a single donut because they’re perilously cash-strapped. It also climaxes there in a classic Greek stage drama confrontation between all the film’s major players in a single, donut-decorated location that explodes the various hustles & schemes they’ve been struggling to keep under control throughout. Both Blood & Donuts and Tangerine wander off from their donut shops to explore the city outside (Toronto & Los Angeles, respectively), but their shared novelty locale provides the structure that allows for that indulgence

Like how Boya (Gordon Currie) awakens from a decades-long slumber at the start of Blood & Donuts, the similarly dormant Sindee (Rodriguez) emerges from prison at the start of Tangerine out of the loop on what’s been happening in her local trans sex worker microcosm since she’s been away. Over the opening shared donut, she learns from her best friend Alexandra (Taylor) that her boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her while she was locked up, so she bursts out of Donut Time into the Los Angeles sunshine to enact her revenge on all parties involved. Obviously, this flood of Los Angeles sunlight distinguishes Tangerine from the late-night vampire drama of Blood & Donuts (as well as distinguishing Baker’s film as a kind of novelty within its own Christmas movie genre). Otherwise, though, the two films have a similar way of collecting oddball characters in low-income-level gathering spots—like, for instance, donut shops. Tangerine speeds through a blur of 7/11s, laundromats, dive bars, by-the-hour motels, and car washes until it finds its way back to its Donut Time starting point. It finds an unexpected symmetry within the low-rent late-night locales of Blood & Donuts’s own tour of Toronto, something that’s most readily recognizable in the films’ respective visions of impossibly filthy motel rooms. Or maybe it’s most recognizable in how David Cronenberg’s mobster runs his crime ring out of a bowling alley, while the pimp antagonist of Tangerine runs his own out of a donut shop.

You’d think that a nocturnal vampire comedy from the 90s and a sunlit 2010s trans sex worker drama would have very little in common, especially since the former is so lackadaisical and the latter is commanded by high-energy chaos. Their shared donut shops locales and commitment to exploring the character quirks of the weirdos who frequent them bridge that gap with gusto. The word “donut” may not appear in Tangerine’s title the way it does with its Gen-X predecessor, but the film is just as committed to accentuating the novelty of its central location. Despite being far too young to reasonably remember the TV commercial she’s referencing, Sindee announces, “Time to make the donuts, bitch!” to her romantic rival as they approach the climactic showdown. She also jokingly asks the Donut Time counter girl, “Do you have watermelon flavor?,” an echo of Blood & Donuts’s own bizarre inclusion of a kiwi-flavored donut. As a pair, the two films seem to be serving as two pillars of a sparsely populated Donut Movie subgenre. The longer you scrutinize how they use the novelty of that locale the more they appear to have in common despite their drastically different surface details.

For more on September’s Movie of the Month, the Gen-X Canuxploitation vampire drama Blood & Donuts (1995), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 9/5/19 – 9/11/19

Here are the few movies we’re most excited about that are playing in New Orleans this week. It’s apparently time to bury summer in its steamy grave and get stoked for Halloween season, since everything of interest this week falls firmly in the horror genre.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

IT: Chapter Two Steven King’s novel IT is a lengthy screed about friendship and the loss of innocence upon the road to maturity, a book that holds the record for “Product Most Obviously Created by a Coked Up Lunatic.” It’s not King’s best work, but its recent film adaptation found a kernel of perfection in it and brought it to life, shining as one of the best big-budget mainstream horror films in recent memory (and one of our favorite films of 2017). It’s unlikely this “second chapter” of that adaptation will continue that accomplishment, considering that it covers the same section of the book that tanked the enjoyability of the 90s miniseries that precedes it, but we’re still optimistic about its chances. Playing wide.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark A Guillermo del Toro-produced anthology horror adapted from a series of short stories that freaked us all out as children in the 80s & 90s. Playing wide.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

Midsommar – Ari Aster’s folk horror follow-up to Hereditary returns to theaters for one week only in its extended Director’s Cut, now featuring over 170 minutes of gore, grief, despair, relationship drama, and pitch-black humor. Playing only at AMC Elmwood.

Ready or Not Samara Weaving continues her delightfully over-the-top genre work after the underappreciated Netflix novelty The Babysitter & her brief appearance in Monster Trucks with this new high-concept schlock piece about a young bride who’s hunted on her wedding night by a wealthy family of board game industry tycoons she married into in a deadly game of Hide & Seek. It’s a lot of fun and also the topic of this week’s episode of The Swampflix Podcast! Playing wide.

-Brandon Ledet

Punk and the City

Susan Seidelman’s first two feature films as a director serve as a loving, warts-and-all portrait of women’s lives in 1980s NYC. Both Smithereens (our current Movie of the Month) and its major studio follow-up Desperately Seeking Susan portray New York as a romantic (even if dangerous) alternative to a milquetoast life of domestic labor in the suburbs, wherein the survival-based life of a starving artist in the Big City is vastly preferable to the safe, sheltered alternative. They idolize the day-to-day struggles of the liberated Bad Girls of city life who bested the system by shedding their suburban safety nets to risk harm daily as free spirits in the busy streets of NYC. It’s initially surprising, then, to learn that a director so rooted in punk transgression & rejection of normalcy was later involved in the early beginnings of a much more mainstream depiction of New York femininity: Sex and the City. Seidelman directed the pilot episode of the hit HBO comedy series, as well as two additional episodes in its pivotal first season. She was by no means the main creative force behind the show (that would be series creator Darren Starr, of Melrose Place & Beverly Hills 90210 fame), but she was still a foundational element in helping the series get its footing. When you return to her three episodes that first season to consider how they communicate with her early No Wave beginnings, there’s certainly a jarring shift in sensibility (and wealth) that makes the transformation surprising, but that initial shock soon fades away and Seidelman’s DNA feels absolutely essential to what Sex and the City set out to accomplish – no matter how far it may have strayed from the desperation & grime of punk.

Sex and the City opens with Sarah Jessica Parker’s editorial columnist decrying in voiceover that she is living in an Age of Uninnocence, that her generation has seen The End of Love in Manhattan. She draws battle lines between the Unmarried Women and the Toxic Bachelors of NYC, explaining, “There are tens of thousands of women in the city. We all know and love them. They’re all alone.” This snapshot of modern NYC femininity already intersects with Seidelman’s wheelhouse in a way, at least with enough overlap to hint why she may have been considered for the project. The director does know and love the women of the city. They’ve been her auteurist obsession since the start of her career in the grimy run & gun days of No Wave. No mater how much the pilot episode (or Seidelman’s second contribution to the show, “The Power of Female Sex,” in which the series’ protagonists experiment with the power of transactional sex) complains about the lack of genuine romance in modern city living, these characters still represent a kind of wish-fulfilment fantasy for the audience – especially for people watching from outside the confines of NYC. They traipse around gaudy nightclubs, drunken drag-brunch meals, designer clothing stores, and art galleries stacked with abstract paintings of giant vulvas in a modern-living whirlwind. No matter how much romantic ennui they experience in the alone-in-a-crowd anonymity of the Big City, their lives are far more enticing than the milquetoast suburban alternative – a trade-off you can see explored in Seidelman’s work all the way back to Smithereens. Maybe they can’t afford to pay their rent because they’re addicted to designer shoes rather than the more immediate, survival-based desperation of Seidelman’s early punks, but the sentiment is largely the same.

The most direct example of how Seidelman’s work on Sex and the City overlaps with the themes of her No Wave era is in her third (and final) episode of the show: “The Baby Shower.” In that episode all four leads of the show make the perilous journey to Hell on Earth: the suburbs. There they reconnect with an old friend who married a Wall Street banker (when she “was supposed to marry Sid Vicious”) and who is transforming into a suburbanite homemaker before their very eyes. They mock the woman for “using a child to validate her existence” rather than pursuing the “normal” comforts of casual sex & overpriced cocktails. As unfulfilling as their hedonistic lives in the Big City may feel on a day-to-day basis (the central conflict of the show), the suburban alternative is presented in the baby shower episode as far, far worse. In Smithereens, characters lament the dying days of the punk scene because it means being forced to return to the milquetoast doldrums of the burbs. In “The Baby Shower,” we get a painfully clear picture of what that shameful fall from urban grace looks like. It ain’t pretty. Seidelman’s work on Sex and the City may be stripped of the No Wave era punk & grime that flavored her early work as a young, energetic filmmaker in works like Smithereens. On a thematic level, though, the show still details the romantic allure of women pursuing defiantly selfish lives in the Big City despite their social training to raise children & support their husband’s careers from the relative safety of the suburbs. That defiance is in itself an act of punk transgression, whether or not it happens to be accessorized with designer shoes. Besides, it’s not like punk & fashion aren’t irrevocably linked anyway. If nothing else, the premise of Desperately Seeing Susan is essentially “The clothes make the woman.”

It’s also worth noting that the main rich-guy romantic interest in Sex and the City, Mr. Big, is played by character actor Chris North – who appears late in Smithereens as a teenage prostitute. That’s about as concise of an illustration of the wealth & aesthetic differences vs. the unexpected overlap between the two productions as you’re likely to see.

For more on August’s Movie of the Month, the No Wave summer-bummer drama Smithereens (1982), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, our look at the director’s suburban beginnings before moving to the big city, and last week’s comparison of the film to its big-budget follow-up, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985).

-Brandon Ledet

Cross-Promotion: Dagon (2001) on the We Love to Watch Podcast

I was recently featured as a returning guest on an episode of the We Love to Watch podcast discussing two Stuart Gordon-directed adaptations of classic HP Lovecraft stories: Dagon (2001) & “Dreams in the Witch-House” (2005), as part of the show’s ongoing “Summer of Lovecraft” series.

Aaron & Peter were incredibly kind to invite me back after previous discussions of The Fly (1958) & Xanadu (1980). It’s always super fun to guest on their podcast, since I regularly listen as a fan. Their show is wonderfully in sync with the sincere & empathetic ethos we try to maintain on this site (especially when covering so-called “bad movies”), so I highly recommend digging through old episodes & clips on the We Love to Watch blog if you haven’t already. And, of course, please start by giving a listen to their episode on Dagon below.

-Brandon Ledet

Desperately Seeking Wren

In her documentary Confessions of a Suburban Girl, director Susan Seidelman examines the Patriarchal social conditioning she and her peers were hindered with as teens in 1960s suburbia. Trained from birth to be dutiful housewives safely tucked away from the dangers of The Big City where their husbands would work, these girls were “protected” to the point of suffocation. It’s no surprise, then, that Seidelman and her frustrated buds idolized the “Bad Girls” of their community: the leather jacket-wearing, go-go dancing, sexually adventurous reprobates that were meant to be serve as cautionary tales but instead registered as heroes who bested the system. You can easily detect this fascination with the defiant Bad Girl archetype in both of Seidelman’s first two features as a director. In her debut (and our current Movie of the Month), the 1982 No Wave drama Smithereens, Seidelman takes us on a grimy, dispirited tour of post-punk NYC under the guidance of Wren (played by Susan Berman) – a selfish, cunning brat who will exploit anyone in her orbit if it means surviving another day. Smithereens is a fascinating character study of a desperate Bad Girl who’s running low on resources to keep her deviant, starving-artist lifestyle going, to the point where she threatens to abandon audience sympathies entirely with each new grift. Wren is more of an anti-hero (as well as her own antagonist) in that way. For a truly heroic portrait of a Bad Girl from the Big City, you’d have to look to Seidelman’s big studio follow-up to Smithereens: Desperately Seeking Susan.

None other than 80s (and 90s & 00s) pop icon Madonna stars as the titular Bad Girl in Siedelman’s second feature – a character who’s infinitely cooler & more lovable than the prickly, survival-minded Wren. Susan represents a fantasy of what a bohemian life in the Big City would look like to a sheltered woman from the suburbs in desperate need of adventure & romance. Roseanne Arquette costars as the audience surrogate: a terminally bored, milquetoast housewife who looks to Bad Girls like Susan as escapist wish-fulfillment fantasies. After stalking this strange woman through her personals ads in newspapers, our protagonist finds herself trailing Susan in real life as well. She leaves the sheltered safety of the suburbs to follow Susan around NYC like a cartoon character floating behind the steam trail of a cooling pie, totally mesmerized. This fascination is clearly more about envy than desire, and the movie-magic fantasy of the picture is a traditionally farcical mix-up of concussions, misunderstandings, and mistaken identities wherein the two women swap lives for a short, wacky time. In Smithereens, Seidelman fixates on the harsher realities of what Bad Girls from the Big City would have to do to scrape by since her freedoms require a life without safety nets. Desperately Seeking Susan is more about the romantic fantasy of that lifestyle as seen from an outsider’s perspective, something she and her peers shared as sheltered teens. In both instances, a life of suburban doldrums is effectively framed as a prison sentence in contrast to the daily struggles of a Big City free-spirit who answers to no one – except when she’s negotiating a place to sleep that night.

Desperately Seeking Susan is decidedly less punk & less challenging than Seidelman’s No Wave debut, but it’s still just as interested in the lives of frustrated, bored women in search of a life worth living. Both films work exceedingly well as a guided tour of 1980s NYC and as period-specific fashion lookbooks. That latter concern may be the only area where Susan truly outshines Wren. Every single outfit Madonna wears in Desperately Seeking Susan is impossibly perfect, and most of the excitement of the picture is in the suspense of what she (or the concussed woman who mistakenly believes she is her) is going to wear next. Wren’s tour of a post-punk NYC is a little more useful from a street-level documentarian standpoint, but Susan’s adventures in the city do happen to touch on some gorgeous dive bar & thrift store locales, as well as an insanely dense list of soon-to-be-somebody personalities of the era: Laurie Metcalf, John Turturro, Ann Magnuson, Steven Wright, The Honeymoon Killers’s Shirley Stoller, the triplets from Three Identical Strangers, etc. etc. etc. Seidelman invites this 1:1 comparison between Wren & Susan in the very first scene of the film, where Madonna is introduced taking selfies with a Polaroid camera in a direct echo of one of Smithereens’s most iconic scenes. Whereas Smithereens is a bummed-out reality check of what the Bad Girl lifestyle means for people who have no choice but to live it, though, Desperately Seeking Susan is a “The clothes make the woman” fantasy where being a Bad Girl only means liberation from a life of dutiful housework & childrearing. Both perspectives are valid, and both are made more valuable when considered in tandem.

For more on August’s Movie of the Month, the No Wave summer-bummer drama Smithereens (1982), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s look at the director’s suburban beginnings before moving to the big city.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 8/15/19 – 8/21/19

Here are the movies we’re most excited about that are playing in New Orleans this week, including a wealth of artsy-fartsy counterprogramming for the closing days of the summertime blockbuster season.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

The Queen (1968) – A landmark documentary about a late-60s pageant drag competition that telegraphed a lot of the content & format of modern drag media like RuPaul’s Drag Race. Screening at the Zeitgeist Theatre & Lounge as part of their ongoing queer cinema series Wildfire.

The Untitled Amazing Jonathan Documentary A formally experimental documentary on the late magician-comedian The Amazing Johnathan, who updated traditional Vegas showmanship with a sinister Gen-X sensibility for the 1990s. Screening at The Broad Theater on Thursday, 8/16.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark A Guillermo del Toro-produced anthology horror adapted from a series of short stories that freaked us all out as children in the 80s & 90s.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

Millennium Actress (2001) – Another surreal anime masterwork from the late Satoshi Kon, combining the fluid cinematic dream logic of Paprika & Perfect Blue with the tender warmth of Tokyo Godfathers to explore a poetic crossroads between memory, fantasy, and cinema. Screening Monday, 8/19 via Fathom Events.

Stop Making Sense (1984) – Often cited as the greatest concert film of all time, this Jonathan Demme documentary of the Talking Heads’ tour for their incredible album Speaking in Tongues is returning to theaters for its 35th Anniversary. Screening at Chalmette Movies on Friday 8/16 and Saturday 8/17.

Cool Hand Luke (1967) – A somber anti-hero tale starring Paul Newman that helped set the stage for the New Hollywood era. From my review for our Roger Ebert Film School series: “Cool Hand Luke is decidedly empty, meaningless, a monument to nothing. You can see its cold, nihilistic view of the world reflected in the aviators of ‘The Man With No Eyes,’ an especially cruel prison guard who serves as the film’s de facto Grim Reaper. You can see it in the way Luke lets down the prisoners who gave him all of their love & religious devotion in exchange for a big fat nothing. Perhaps the reason I ‘had a failure to communicate’ with Cool Hand Luke‘s hyper macho posturing in the early scenes is that I read it as a glorification, a tribute to something to believe in. Once I realized the film believes in nothing at all –religion, masculinity, or otherwise– I was fully on board. Fifty hard-boiled eggs & a frivolous bet was all it took me to get there.” Screening at the Prytania on Sunday 8/18 and Wednesday 8/21 as part of their regular Classic Movies series.

-Brandon Ledet

From the Suburbs to Smithereens

In Susan Seidelman’s 1982 No Wave classic Smithereens, our current Move of the Month, a milquetoast life of privilege in the suburbs is treated like a looming threat. The film chronicles the dying hours of the NYC punk scene after its CBGB heyday, as the few characters who’re foolishly trying to keep punk culture alive bottom out in dwindling numbers. The city’s promise of cheap living & punk rock infamy is proven to be unsustainable, which for the film’s prickly protagonist might mean a reluctant career in survival-based sex work, but for her privileged peers more likely means a return home to the artless monotony of suburban lives in their parents’ homes – almost invariably in the Midwest. It’s somewhat unsurprising to learn that the film’s director, Susan Seidelman, has more in common with these reluctant suburbanites that she does with the Bad Girl protagonist that she’s gawkingly fascinated with. However, you can’t infer much about Seidelman’s feelings towards suburbia in the film other than a defeatist reluctance to return there, as it’s a story entirely confined to the grimy concrete walls of the big city. Still, the implication that the threat of suburban living could be any worse than the rot & decay of the No Wave scene is pretty damning in itself, especially in now privileged a lot of punks were to have such a secure safety net waiting offscreen.

For a more direct, succinct rumination on the menacing privilege of suburbia from Seidelman, look to her 1992 documentary Confessions of a Suburban Girl. Produced for BBC Scotland as an anthropological examination of suburban American culture, the film finds Seidelman speaking in frank, self-critical terms about her privileged childhood in a cookie-cutter “instant neighborhood” outside of Philadelphia. She paints a picture of white, almost invariably Jewish women living a life of sheltered privilege in the counter-culture era of the 1960s, interviewing a sample group of her childhood friends about their experiences in The Suburbs. At first, their complaints about growing up too loved & too protected outside the more bustling culture of The Big City rings like a shallow topic for a feature-length documentary. Eventually, though, it really digs into the Patriarchal limitations & sinister apathy of that insular world in a genuinely fascinating way. These are women who were raised to go to college specifically so they can attract a successful husband. The thin line between the pressure to be glamorously beautiful but not too sexualized and the stark contrast between the conservative community nearby & the changing world outside are maddening. Of course these pent-up young women idolized the Bad Girls & go-go dancers who were meant to be seen as cautionary tales instead of heroes who bested the system. Of course they saw living a starving-artist’s life in NYC as liberation from a life sentence to homemaking. Of course prickly, uncooperative bullies like Wren from Smithereens fascinated them as a window into a more dramatic life.

Confessions of a Suburban Girl isn’t especially relevant as a companion piece to Smithereens so much as it’s a roadmap to Seidelman’s pet obsessions across her entire career as an auteur. Clips from She-Devil, Desperately Seeking Susan, and Cookie are peppered throughout as if the documentary were produced as an extra feature for a Seidelman box set. The only clip from Smithereens featured among those more widely seen studio pictures is of the movie-within-a-movie gag where Cookie Mueller plays a fictional scream queen in a drive-in creature feature. Still, no matter how much it’s buried among the documentary’s interviews, dramatic reenactments, domestic stock footage, and clips from better-known films, the subtext of suburbia’s milquetoast menace from Smithereens is greatly enhanced by getting familiar with Seidelman’s artistic & demographic origins in Confessions of a Suburban Girl. It’s also cool to see that Seidelman had maintained her run & gun No Wave filmmaking sensibility in the project after years of working in bigger studio pictures, as she has to steal shots of her childhood home after being told by the new residents that she can’t film there. Turning a BBC fluff documentary series into a multi-media art project about the boundaries & philosophy of suburban femininity is also subversive act in itself, and Confessions of a Suburban Girl is totally worthwhile on its own terms even when divorced from the rest of Seidelman’s career, Smithereens included. It’s the kind of forgotten curio you catch on a VHS rip via YouTube (as opposed to inclusion as a proper featurette on the Criterion Blu-Ray release of Smithereens), but that humble status almost makes the film feel even more substantive as an overlooked, underestimated work of political art – like how Seidelman & her peers were underestimated as young women in their sheltered suburban beginnings.

For more on August’s Movie of the Month, the No Wave summer-bummer drama Smithereens (1982), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet